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The Flexible Learning and Innovative Education System (FLIES) Program of SPSPS shall adapt the HyFlex or Hybrid and Flexible approaches in delivering its services. This new model of the FLIES program ensures that course design enables a flexible participation policy for students, whereby students may attend face-to-face synchronous class sessions in-person (typically in a traditional classroom) or complete course learning activities online without physically attending class. Some HyFlex courses allow for further choice in the online delivery mode, allowing both synchronous and asynchronous participation (Beatty, 2019).
In a HyFlex course, the instructor provides instructional structure, content, and activities to meet the needs of students participating both in class and online. Activities in each mode often overlap, reusing learning resources, activities, and assessments for all students when possible and practical, but in total, they are typically not the same activities for students in all participation modes. Activities in each mode must lead to be equivalent learning outcomes. No matter which participation format is chosen, teaching and learning activities should ideally:
- Present content effectively and professionally
- Engage learners with generative learning activities
- Use authentic assessment to evaluate student learning
The principle of “dynamic stability” may be very appropriate for systems embracing HybridFlexible (HyFlex) courses. The instruction system is both dynamic and stable: student faces in class often change from week to week, in-class and online participation numbers may vary considerably, and different activities may be required in various modes, yet a consistent and effective learning experience is expected by students in the classroom and by students online, requiring extensive design work by instructors (and any available design support).
A. Managing a Multi-Modal Learning Environment
In the FLIES-HyFlex course, both fully online and fully classroom-based instruction is provided. It is a faculty responsibility and right to provide instruction in all formats required to support learning, so in a HyFlex environment, the faculty provide effective instruction in both classroom and online modes. The design of courses both include synchronous and asynchronous approaches.
Faculty often have a preferred instructional mode, and it may be appropriate to assume that every experienced faculty member is equipped and resourced to provide instruction in that mode. In this new and improved program, faculty have more experience teaching in the classroom environment than in teaching online, so there may not be much, if anything, that faculty need to change in the classroom to support HyFlex students who are showing up for class in the classroom environment. Many faculty have much less experience teaching online, so more effort are required to design, develop and facilitate the online mode of instruction in the HyFlex class. Some faculty take on an additional challenge of serving students who participate synchronously and online, creating an environment with three participation modes: classroom, online asynchronous, and online synchronous.
B. Classroom Instruction
One of the four guiding values/principles of HyFlex is “Reusability: Utilize artifacts from learning activities in each participation mode as ‘learning objects’ for all students.” In the classroom, the instructor shall plan to share all resources used in the classroom with online students. This would be made possible through the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS). Additionally, the instructor may want to record and archive the activities of the classroom for students to review later. This requires recording technology, informed consent from students to capture classroom interactions for later review by all students in a class, and skill in using the recording technology to capture and distribute archives. Either an instructor provides the technology and skill themselves, or they use installed technology (web cams, room cams and mics, etc.) or rely on external instructional supports (AV specialists, teaching assistants, etc.) like they would for any technology-supported classroom activity.
A continuous challenge for instructors is ensuring that students are engaged in a single learning community regardless of their participation mode. Efforts to build a learning community are likely to support the development of a learning community for all students regardless of their participation mode. (See Kim (2000) or Palloff & Pratt (1999) for helpful strategies for building successful online communities.) Regardless of instructional mode, three aspects of high-quality teaching are relevant in each delivery mode and are perhaps most critical in supporting student learning in the fully online asynchronous mode since there is no live faculty engagement to rapidly address emergent (and often individual) student learning support needs. These aspects are:
- providing relevant and meaningful content,
- engaging students in memorable activities and learning experiences, and 3) assessing learning and adapting instruction to meet student needs; supporting student self-assessment when appropriate.
C. Online Asynchronous Instruction
Teaching fully online asynchronous students involves a set of tasks and skills that are generally well-understood and researched. In HyFlex classes, the instructor may be experienced and highly skilled in teaching online or may be new to teaching online. We may use HyFlex course designs as a way to build an online capacity and capability in a previously classroom focused curriculum and faculty. (Beatty, 2007)
Content: Instructional content is delivered via the Canvas LMS, providing informational resources for students in all learning modes. For instruction to all students, best practice includes using multiple forms of representation for content, such as text, video, and audio. Some content may be generated by students themselves (i.e., discussion forum posts). This content should be captured and shared in the LMS for all students, regardless of participation mode.
Engagement: The defining characteristic of asynchronous instruction is the displacement in time between the instructor and the student. Oftentimes there is also geographical displacement, which may influence instructional practice as well. Effective engagement practice includes interaction opportunities for students with content, the instructor, and other students. The most common online learning activity in higher education seems to be the asynchronous discussion forum. There are many creative ways to design and facilitate engaging online discussions; most requiring nothing more than an interesting prompt, and intentional format (debate, roundtable, etc.) and active facilitation. (Bonk & Zhang, 2008; Wright, Szymanski Sunal, & Wilson, 2006) The major challenges for instructors are:
- choosing interesting (to students) discussion formats and topics,
- managing time in facilitating online discussions, and
- including elements of the asynchronous student activities in the learning experience of synchronous students as well.
Assessment: Assessing learning for asynchronous students is very similar to that for classroom students. Formally graded demonstrations of learning (reports, presentations, exams, quizzes, etc.) are usually the same for all participation modes. (See Osterhoff, Conrad & Ely, 2008 and Conrad & Openo, 2018 for a thorough discussion on assessing learners online.) Informal assessment of learning differs in that the instructor must use the interaction technology (LMS discussions, for example) to determine the asynchronous students’ learning state. To do this, the instructor shall review everything posted online and should regularly check-in with online students to clarify questions, provide assessment opportunities (discussion forum exchanges, for example). Effective instructional practice in asynchronous discussion forums includes the instructor supporting students’ self-assessment of learning, normally informally.
D. Online Synchronous Instruction
Teaching fully online synchronous students involves a set of tasks and skills that are largely like those used in classroom teaching, though they differ significantly in that they are completely mediated through a technology interface. Teaching synchronously online has been growing in popularity and acceptance since the advent of largely ubiquitous high bandwidth networks, easy to use web meeting and webinar software tools, and affordable synchronous classroom environments provided by academic institutions. As there are for asynchronous teaching, there are many excellent resources that describe effective online teaching and best practices of seasoned online synchronous instructors (Finkelstein, 2006; Bower, Kennedy, Dalgarno, Lee, & Kenney, 2014).
Content: Instructional content is often streamed live from the classroom using cameras and microphones and videoconferencing application such as Zoom and Google Meet. The Canvas LMS is used to provide informational resources for students in all learning modes.
Engagement: Students normally share video and audio from their remote location with instructors and other students in the in-person class. Effective practice includes interaction opportunities for all students, often including polls (quick questions), interactive discussions, and group discussion. The major challenge for instructors is including online synchronous students in every classroom learning activity; expecting, supporting and rewarding fully engaged participation.
Assessment: Assessing learning for synchronous students may be identical to that for classroom students. Formally graded demonstrations of learning (reports, presentations, exams, quizzes, etc.) are usually the same for all participation modes. Informal assessment of learning differs in that the instructor must have adequate technology to determine the synchronous students’ learning state (confusion? clarity? distraction?) and should regularly check-in with online students to allow for quick and responsive assessment. This practice is essentially the same for all synchronous modes (classroom and online) but differs primarily in the requirement that assessing synchronous students is always mediated by technology, and often relies on very small video representations of students and student self-reports of learning state or progress.
E. Student-Instructor Interaction
The HyFlex instructor must manage interactions with students in all modes of instruction. It is never acceptable to abandon a set of students in a particular mode in which the instructor may have weak skills or may not enjoy interacting. Faculty should have effective engagement skills in the classroom, in the online asynchronous environment, and in the online synchronous environment if one is provided to students. Table 1 provides several examples of differing instructor-student engagement across the three common modes of HyFlex participation.
Professional development for faculty may be directed at any or all these environments. Some institutions may implement quality assurance programs that require evidence of interaction skills or certification of completing appropriate professional development activities or programs. Most institutions seem to assume instructors are skilled at teacher-student interaction in the classroom environment and don’t normally require certification, though professional development for face-to-face teaching is often available.
Table 1. Examples of Student-Instructor Interaction in Varied Instructional Modes
|Content||Dynamic, interesting presentation of content||
Instructor addresses online students similarly
to in-class students
|Instructor acknowledges online students in class recordings and in recorded messages to asynchronous students|
|Engagement||Meaningful discussions; collaborative activities involving students and instructor||Instructor engages online students during in-class discussion and group activities||Instructor presence in online discussions is obvious, frequent, and contributes to the conversation over time|
Ongoing informal assessment of learning during content presentation and
Instructor intentionally injects opportunities for interaction to support informal assessment of learning during content presentation and
Feedback to students during instructional activities is timely, accurate, and significant (not
abbreviated or trivial)
- Assessing Learning Progression
Assessing student learning, in general, can be very much the same in all modes of HyElex instruction. Faculty with experience teaching in the classroom will likely evaluate learning, and the progress of learning, much the same as they have in the past. Learning progression is also referred to as “formative assessment” or “formative evaluation” in the education literature. “The goal of formative evaluation is the improvement of student motivation and learning.” (McMillan, 2007) In the classroom, learning progression is often assessed informally, with physical and social cues being sent and read by both students and the instructor as content is presented and class activities are in progress. Instructors may interrupt a presentation for a quick quiz (or a “show of hands”), or to ask questions of selected students.
When working with online students, the challenge to instructors is translating the techniques of formative evaluation effective in the classroom into the online instructional environment – in many cases both synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous online instructional formats often afford many of the same evaluation techniques as those used in the classroom. Spontaneous quizzing, reading facial cues, conducting quick polls, encouraging question and answer sessions, completing “one-minute essays” are some of the practices used in the classroom that can work well with online synchronous students. Clearly, there may be additional challenges to the instructor since all these interactions will now be mediated by technology, and that technology may be limited in its ability to convey meaning through small video windows, imperfect audio, or other challenges. But overall, many instructors find reasonable approaches supporting their assessment of learning progression with online synchronous students.
According to Gikandi, Morrow, and Davis (2011), in their review of the literature available at the time, “effective online formative assessment can foster a learner and assessment centered focus through formative feedback and enhanced learner engagement with valuable learning experiences.” (2011). Practices such as the use of discussion forums, frequent quizzes, and requiring multiple performances of understanding represented in an e-portfolio system are noted as being particularly useful. One meta-practice for the HyFlex program is for teachers to design activities supporting formative assessment for all students that meet the specific needs of online asynchronous students. Essentially this creates an online formative assessment approach applied to all students, no matter how they participate in class sessions.